In her critical essay “The Semantics of Passion in Shakespeare’s Comedies: An Interdisciplinary Study,” Biewer analyzes how Shakespeare transmits love and passions in his plays, in particular in Twelfth Night. According to Biewer, the main theme of Twelfth Night is the search for true love. Hereby, throughout the play, Shakespearian characters try to understand what the true love is as well as where it arises.
In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare portrays the lovers’ feelings by choosing specific literary means in accordance with the concepts and terminology of Elizabethan psychology that, in turn, comes from the theories of such philosophers as Aristotle and Plato and physicians Galen and Hippocrates. Hereby, since according to Elizabethan psychology, the human soul is dependent on its body and the condition of its organs, in his play, Shakespeare connects the protagonists’ feelings with their temper. Consequently, the major characters often associate love with desires and satisfaction of their bodily desires.
By reflecting the semantic fields of love and passions, Shakespeare uses the main pivots of Elizabethan psychology such as the theory of inseparability of human body with soul and humouralism. The doctrine of humouralism implies that the individual mixture of the four main humours – blood, phlegm, choler, and melancholy, which reflect the four major elements of the nature: water, fire, earth, and air, define the person’s temper and, hence, the way in which he/she feels love (508-509). Accordingly, in the description of the protagonists’ feelings, Shakespeare refers to the name of the organs and humours, where he believes the feelings of love may come from – the heart, the brain, the blood, and the liver. Hereby, as Biewer analyzes, the writer mentions the term “liver” for describing the process of falling in love, and “heart” for reflecting the deepened love (512). This refers to the Greek philosophy, where the liver is associated with the location of sexual desire, while heart is believed to be the sensitive part of the soul.
In accordance with the three levels of knowledge of Elizabethan psychology such as imagination, senses, and knowledge, Biewer distinguishes love driven by imagination – “idealizing love”, love driven by senses – “sensual love”, and love driven by understanding – “rational love” respectively (512). In this light, while both terms “heart” and “liver” represent the passions of love, “brain” is the seat of the rational part of the soul, where the emotions unite with rationalism (513). Thus, while referring to the threefold division of love, liver refers to sensual love, heart to idealizing love, and brain to the rational love.
Thus, the protagonists’ passions and perception of love may come from the disposition of their temper, which, in turn, result from the prevalence of certain humour in the body. However, similarly as humours can alter passions, the passions and feelings can alter the current mixture of the humours in the organism. This is actually the evidence for the interdependence between body and soul as well as the proof of the potential transformative power of love.
In her article “The Principle of Recompense in ‘Twelfth Night’”, Slights analyzes the role of the recompense in reaching a true reciprocal love. While providing an overview of the plot of Twelfth Night, Slights argues that one of the main themes of the play is reflection of the principle of reciprocity, according to which the reciprocal exchange of goods and gifts is a basement for mutually satisfying relationships of people.
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While speaking of exchanges, the author refers to the law of exchange, whereby no one can “gain without losing, enjoy without sharing” (538). Thus, Viola requites the sea captain with gold, Orsino sends jewelry to Olivia, and Olivia presents gifts to Cesario, which is actually Viola in disguise, thus closing the circle of recompense. Although Viola is more selfless than all other characters of Twelfth Night, similarly as she is ready to pay in gratitude for help she receives from others, she also expects to receive the recompense for her service and patronage.
Hereby, although Viola is fully aware of the rule of reciprocity, which implies giving and receiving the recompense, she is unable to reciprocate Olivia’s love, which she directs to Cesario, who is Viola’s fiction. While realizing the falseness of Olivia’s feelings towards her, Viola regrets her Cesario’s disguise. As Slight admits, the Olivia’s lesson learns “ourselves we do aot owe”, which resembles the basis of reciprocal human relationships that “one belongs to others and not to oneself” (544).
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However, at the beginning, all the protagonists including Viola feel difficulties in seeing the truth in the tangled personal feelings and relationships as well as finding the way out of them. In the play, rather than confrontation, Shakespare creates the atmosphere of isolation between the main characters. For example, Orsino and Olivia strive for reaching their own desires and gaining the recompense for their feelings while neglecting the true feelings and desires of their beloved. In particular, Orsino strives to replace Olivia’s passionate grief and mourning for her brother by passionate feelings for him. Hereby, the protagonists forget that asking for love implies the obligation of giving love.
According to Slights, the desire of self-sufficiency tempts all major characters. However, the circumstances, as well as personal needs and desires, force them into mutual relationships. With appearance of Sebasian, and identification of Cesario as Viola, Orsino transforms from the master of Cesario into Viola’s future husband. Hereby, through the perspective of the marriages, Orsino, Viola, Olivia, and Sebastian transform into one family. Not only does the last scene of the play does not only unite lovers, it also makes an emphasis on the recompense that the characters win. Thus, the happy ending of Twelfth Night is the result of reciprocal exchanges rather than merely the twist of fate or the manifestation of the protagonists’ personal spiritual growth.